Are Your Pictures Ready To Sell?


Photography: ssh

So you’ve done the shoot, downloaded the images and archived the best onto your hard drive. Now you’re already dreaming of how you’re going to spend the money when your pictures hit the market.

If only that was all it took.

Before you can make your images available for sale there are a number of things that you need to do.

Here’s a pre-sale checklist.

Are your images “clean”?
Although some buyers might prefer to do the post-production themselves, keeping the quality of the original image high and their options open, there is still a minimal level of work that should be done before you start selling your pictures. According to top microstock photographer, Yuri Arcurs, “[u]ploading a picture and not having it spot-cleaned for sensor dust or facial impurities… is amateur these days.”

Your models might not be perfect and your lenses might not be immaculate, but your photos should be both.

Are your permits in order?
If you’ve been photographing people, you’ll need model releases before the images can be used commercially… or you’ll have to tell the buyer you don’t have them and risk losing the sale. is just one place that has model releases that you can download, so make sure you have all the permissions your buyers might need.

And make sure too that you remove any trademarks from the photo. It’s very unlikely that you’ll get permission to use those and it’s easier to airbrush than to try.

Are your formats right?
You might be shooting and storing in RAW, but it’s most likely that you’ll be selling in JPEG. Making the conversion isn’t hard (just remember that every save in JPEG cuts quality) but most outlets have minimum size restrictions too. If your image is smaller than 1600 x 1200 pixels, for example, it’s unlikely to very usable… or very sellable.

Are your photographs commercial?
Each of the checks we’ve seen so far take simple yes/no answers. Either you’ve cleaned up your image or you haven’t and either your photos meet most buyers’ minimum size requirements or they don’t. This question is perhaps the most important… but it could also be the hardest to judge.

A good image isn’t necessarily a commercial image. You can the take the perfect picture of a garden rose but if there’s no demand for images of garden roses then uploading it for sale and trying to market it would be a waste of time.

You can get an idea of whether your images are commercial by browsing stock sites and publications. If you can find images that look like yours — and that have been downloaded or published — you could be in with a chance too.

Of course, if you can’t find any similar photos or if you find lots of photos that haven’t sold, it doesn’t mean your photo won’t sell. But it could mean that you’ll struggle more than you’d like.

Are your photos competitive?
And while you’re looking to see whether images like yours have sold, you can also see whether your images are at least as good.

Again, this is the sort of value judgment that’s not always easy to make — and it’s not as though you’re the most objective judge either. Often, you’ll be tempted to simply upload and hope, especially when you’ve already taken the image. But if you’re going to put effort into marketing the photo, you’ll want to make sure that you’re spending your time on the images most likely to result in a sale.

And you’ll also want to be careful about harming your portfolio by uploading images that are of lower quality than those of your competitors.

Do you have a marketing plan?
One of the most common mistakes that photographers make is to upload their images to a website and assume that lots of people will see them and many of them will buy them. They rely on the site — and the image — to do their marketing for them.

Although microstock sites will always have marketing budgets much larger than yours, and getting views on Flickr will depend to some extent on the “interestingness” of your image (and also the size of your network), there are some simple things that you can do to build more views. As Olef Tscheltzoff, co-Founder and President of Fotolia pointed out, “[o]nce the portfolio is on Fotolia, it also has its own URL so if the photographer has his own blog or whatever, he can promote these images by himself.”

That’s not too hard, is it?

Have you registered your copyright?
Although you don’t need to register your images with the copyright office to own the rights to them, when you’re putting your assets in a place where nasty types can steal them, it does pay to register them. Carolyn Wright a photographer and lawyer specializing in photography law explained: “If the photo is properly registered when infringed, statutory damages are available. If the photo was not registered when infringed, the photographer can [only] get actual damages (the license fee plus profits that the infringer made from the infringement).”

Registering individual images might be a little tedious but it is possible to submit the photos in bulk. Seth Resnick has a simple explanation (complete with forms) here.

Of course, it’s always possible to simply shoot, upload and hope but this checklist doesn’t take long to go through, and it might just increase your conversion rate.

[tags] sell your pictures [/tags]

3 comments for this post.

  1. Corey Said:

    Our company is currently on the buying end and is looking to license images at a price well above typical microstock levels. Higher payouts however come with a higher level of expectation and quality from our photographers and their images.

    The information above has a lot of really strong information and I would like to add a few points.

    Are your images “clean”? – This also includes removing all logos and any object you do not have permission, in writing, to use. Think recognizable logos or products and look everywhere. If you don’t have permission to use it take it out or “scrub” it clean.

    Model Releases – A typical model release is a must. We also shoot gay and lesbian lifestyle images and the release needs a special section informing the models the images will be used depicting gay and lesbian lifestyle. This guards from potential defamatory lawsuits if someone doesn’t like how their images is being portrayed. A Property release is also a must for animals and locations used for the shoot.

    Are your formats right? – We MUST supply a 50MB uncompressed 300dpi, 8bit, Adobe 1998 jpg image file to our distributors (5150 pix on the long edge). I can usually up-size a 30MB (4011 pix on the long edge) if the photo is of good quality. If you are serious about selling images for a higher price you will need to shoot and submit in RAW and have proper lighting and styling. Most of our current photographers shoot with full frame Canons or Nikons.

    Are your photographs commercial? – We get about 60 different magazines delivered here just to keep current on commercial and photographic trends. Go to bookstores and flip through magazines of subject matter you are interested in photographing and pick up a new trick or technique.

    There is always more but hopefully this helps out a bit...

  2. Rex Said:

    Corey, 5150 pixels? Really? That means my full frame Canon 5D isn't good enough. Wow...

    Plus, shooting wide-angle usually requires lens corrections, which in turn requires additional cropping making the image even smaller by sometimes up to 500 less pixels.

    Hmmm, looks like I'll need the new 5D when it comes out with a rumored MP count of 16.1.


  3. Corey Scherrer Said:


    The camera doesn't need to produce a 5150 pixel image but produce a high enough quality that can be "up-sized" to the correct sizes.

    By all means buy the 5D because new gear is always fun but it isn't a must. Just make sure you are taking high quality low noise files that have a lot of editing headroom.

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